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Vancouver hospital has key role in training Canadian military trauma surgeons


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Vancouver hospital has key role in training Canadian military trauma surgeons

Embedded surgeons get to hone their skills, ready to deploy to war zones

Perhaps you’re aware Canadian journalists are sometimes embedded with the armed forces in war zones; you’re probably less aware that military doctors are embedded at Vancouver General Hospital.

It’s a program begun about 20 years ago to keep Canada’s military medical people primed in trauma care and ready to deploy at almost a moment’s notice.

Dr. Philip Dawe, trauma and acute care surgeon at VGH and a Canadian Forces major, is the third military doctor to head the Canadian Forces Trauma Training Centre West (another, CFTTC East, has opened in Montreal).

“Because we don’t have a main military hospital anymore … now the model, which I think is a great model, is that we’re embedded in civilian centres,” he said.

Saving military lives hits a little closer to home for Dawe than for many, and not just because his father and three brothers all also served.

Matt, the youngest of the four Dawe brothers, was 27 when, along with B.C. soldier Colin Bason, four other Canadian soldiers and their interpreter, they died in a roadside bombing in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

His mother Reine was this year’s Silver Cross Mother and on Nov. 11 placed a wreath at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on behalf of all Canadian mothers who have lost a child in the military service of Canada.

To this day, Dawe needs a moment to collect himself when asked about his little brother.

He was already studying medicine, so his brother’s death was not an epiphany moment, he said, but it did galvanize him, cemented his desire to be more than a general practitioner.

“If I could save one military person’s life overseas, then my career will be worthwhile,” he said.

There are 50 to 60 specialists among the doctors in Canada’s forces — surgeons, anesthesiologists, orthopedic surgeons, a few other specialties.

In a high-level hospital such as VGH, they are able to stay up to speed on their skills while getting a solid volume of work. (Military nurses, doctor’s assistants, paramedics and GPs are also trained in trauma.)

“Then when we do deploy we’re ready to deal with those patients we’ll see.”

If a soldier in a war theatre can make it to a medical trauma centre, there is about a 97 per cent chance they will live, said Dr. Ross Brown, today working at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver and the first embedded military trauma physician when the program began at VGH.

The program has its roots in the late 1990s following an auditor general’s report questioning the way the Canadian military’s ran its medical world, said Dr. Ross Brown.

“That caused the military to look at itself and do some redesign on health care,” he said.

The military looked abroad — Britain, in particular, had a strong reserve force working within its National Health system, but who were “extractable” and could be deployed, and who had experience working on blast injuries and penetrating wounds.

When Brown finished his residency in general surgery at UBC, it was time for him to rejoin the military and he was assigned to Halifax, one of three general surgeons assigned to a 24-bed hospital.

“I was seeing what the Brits and the Americans were doing, and said ‘Why don’t you leave me in Vancouver … learn more and more about trauma, consolidate my own skills, do more training and I’m still deployable.’”

There were lots of questions: How would he be paid? Would he take someone else’s job? What would public opinion be?

It took awhile, including showing up at Halifax and then being deployed to Bosnia, but when he got back the wheels were rolling for the Canadian Forces Trauma Training Centre, West.

“I would not have been able to do that had it not been for the willingness of Vancouver General and Vancouver Coastal Health to say, ‘Alright, we’ll take a chance here,’” Brown said. “And the military, of course.

“It was a time you could lever an idea and show everyone it was a win-win-win.”

It was early 2001. Within months the 9/11 attacks were carried out and Canada was about to deploy forces to Afghanistan.

“Yep, of course we’re ready to go,” Brown said. “The Canadian Forces Trauma Training Centre was very timely to start bringing people through at a rapid rate.

“The military could stand up and say, ‘We are offering equivalent care to what our soldiers would get if they were in Canada.’

“I think everybody feels good we’re contributing way back here in little Vancouver with a trauma training centre.”



Military doctors gain confidence through Sunnybrook’s trauma education

Dr. Rob Riddell, a military physician with the rank of Major with Special Operations Forces in the Canadian military, says his trauma rotations at Sunnybrook proved to be tremendously beneficial during a recent deployment overseas.

“I was able to apply all of the skills that I learned at Sunnybrook to severely injured battlefield trauma patients, a significant amount of patients with penetrating injuries, blunt trauma, head injuries and everything in between. I’d say my decision making is much, much more enhanced than it ever would have been had I not gone to Sunnybrook.”
Really enjoyed my rotation in Vancouver in PA school.  Downer Maj Dawe being there though - he was helping with surgical wait list out here for awhile before going on his trauma fellowship.